Yesterday (Monday, Jan 29th, 2018) will go down in history as one of the great days for conservation, for travelers, for wildlife, and for Chile.
Chilean President Michele Bachelet signed into law a long-awaited act that creates over 10 million acres of new national parkland (an area larger than Switzerland), and a “Route of Parks” — an interconnected road system that links a total of 17 parks for thousands of kilometers from Cape Horn up through Patagonia.
The signing was a culmination of decades of conservation efforts led by Kris Tompkins and her husband, the late Doug Tompkins. In the early 90’s, Kris, former CEO of Patagonia, Inc. and Doug, founder of The North Face, transitioned from the business world to conservation, purchasing vast tracts of lands across Chile and Argentina.
Initially, their model for conservation was met with resistance. Purchasing land as private individuals, rewilding overgrazed/eroded areas, and building infrastructure with the eventual goal of giving lands back to the country as national parks was an unprecedented concept in Chile. But over the years, as the Tompkins’ first projects such as Pumalín Park were inaugurated, they built up momentum, leading to a pledge signed by Kris Tompkins and Michelle Bachelet in 2017 to create multiple new parks and expand others into future national parks, in the largest donation of land in history.
In 2011, I had the opportunity to interview Kris and Doug in what was then the “future” Patagonia Park. You can watch the trailer below or view the full documentary Trawen.
At the time, the area was threatened by a large hydroelectric project that would’ve dammed the biggest rivers in Patagonia, and massively impacted pristine wilderness and national parks. In what would become the largest environmental movement in Chile’s history, grassroots coalitions pushed back against the dams, eventually leading the Chilean government to cancel the project.
Fast forward to today. The rivers of Patagonia are flowing free, and Chile has become a world leader in conservation, as well as in tourism as a primary economic engine.
With that said, now is the time to plan a visit. The two key destinations for basing your travels are Patagonia National Park and Pumalín Park, both of which are open now and ready to visit. Although it takes some effort getting down there, having seen some this area firsthand, I can say with all honesty that it’s the most spectacular terrain — the biggest rivers, the most awe-inspiring fjordlands and mountains — I’ve ever seen.